Feng Mian sauntered to the Yonghe Palace decked out with the cleanest first-rank maid uniform she could find. Her hair was pulled up by silver and pink flower hairpins in a twin twists style, complimenting her baby pink attire. Behind her, four second and third-ranked maids followed carrying trays of valuable gifts covered in bright red linen.
Underneath one of those linen, was a familiar-looking bowl filled with black liquid.
Feng Mian encountered the two disagreeable maids from before. They didn't look like they were too pleased meeting her.
She greeted them like they were best buddies who go out drinking every weekend. "Aiyooo jiejies, so nice to see you two again!" She slapped one of them in the arm.
"Is the Noble Consort inside?"
The maid who received the slap kneaded the spot that got hit. 'She looks petite, but her hand was so strong ah?'
She clicked her tongue. "Do you think you are the Noble Consort's best friend? Why are you being so familiar, asking as if you've been invited over?"
"Haishh. The friend of a friend is also a friend. Why sweat the details? Here, Concubine Zhou had sent over some gifts, thanking the Noble Consort for helping her last time." Feng Mian stepped aside to show the row of gifts prepared.
"Fine, I'll inform the Noble Consort. Xiao Rou, you show her the way in." Xiao Rou was the other maid from Yonghe Palace.
Feng Mian walked gracefully and curtsied in front of Noble Consort Wen as soon as she was announced. She carried one of the gift plates in personally and placed it in front of Noble Consort Wen.
Noble Consort Wei was someone who dressed to please, even indoors. Today, she sported a black hanfu with a dark blue Shu embroidered chrysanthemum flowers on the sleeves; her inner skirt matching the same blue hue. Her hair was as tall as ever.
"Concubine Zhou is very thankful for Your Hignesess's help last time. Without Consort Wen niangniang's timely help, it was unsure whether my niangniang and Fifth Prince would live to see today."
There was no change in the Noble Consort's demeanour. She lightly said, "It wasn't a big matter. Bengong's palace just happens to have some extra herbs. Tell Concubine Zhou bengong thanks her for the gifts."
Feng Mian smiled politely.
"The weather has been chilly as of late. The physician had been sending some good tonics to the Penglai Pavilion. Concubine Zhou felt that it wasn't too shabby and would like Your Highness to share some of the good things the physician has prepared."
She unveiled the bowl of tonic on the table.
"Consort Wei niangniang should drink it while it's still hot. My niangniang said that it is not only good for the health but is also good for the skin and appearance. If niangniang likes it, then Concubine Zhou will tell the physician to prepare a batch for Yonghe Palace."
"Oh?" Noble Consort Wei's ears perked up at the mention of good for skin and appearance.
Feng Mian watched with keen eyes as Noble Consort Wei reached out for the bowl and took a sip of the black liquid.
Noble Consort Wei's face immediately scrunched up. "So bitter!"
"All good medicines are bitter niangniang." Feng Mian smiled.
Noble Consort Wei downed a cup of tea to get rid of its' taste.
"Tell your Concubine Zhou that there's no need to send over tonics anymore. Bengong can't stand the bitter taste."
"This servant understands. Then Wan Mei will take her leave now as to not disturb niangniang's rest." Feng Mian made a bow. Having achieved what she came here to do, Feng Mian was ready to go back.
Feng Mian clapped her hands twice. The servants who came with her took the signal to put down the gifts in a neat line and walk out of the room.
Feng Mian stopped abruptly and turned. "By the way niangniang,"
"What?" Noble Consort Wei replied.
"Nothing, just that you look really pretty today."
The Noble Consort was left stupified by the straightforward compliment as Feng Mian's entourage left her gates. That night, she looked at herself several times more in the mirror.
Was she particularly good looking today?
System 555: "So it wasn't the Noble Consort who put the poison then?"
Feng Mian: "No. I was also sceptical about this issue. No smart person would leave such obvious traces if they want to poison someone. Why use your own maid that could possibly turn their back on you? Moreover, Noble Consort Wei had no alibi. She doesn't have a prince of her own, so why risk it? But I wanted to make sure just in case. It really wasn't her this time."
System 555 felt that its data was experiencing a headache. Living in the palace is really like living in a tiger's den.
"So who is it then, one of the other prince's mother?" 555 asked.
"Hmmm... maybe. To dare harm a favoured concubine's prince and implicate a Noble Consort... it has to be someone with a higher or an equal footing of power as the Noble Consort herself. Right now, Noble Consort is the highest-ranking consort. Other than her, it could only be... the emperor."
System 555's jaw dropped to the floor. "Really? Are you sure Xiao Mian?"
"That's the thing, we can't be sure. So who knows?" Feng Mian grew worried. She could fend against other concubines and consorts, but she can't fend against the emperor himself.
System 555: "So what do we do now?"
"We ask for Concubine Zhou's help."
Before Feng Mian could begin to discuss matters with Concubine Zhou, she had found that the Fifth Prince's mother had already drunk herself into a stupor.
She grabbed the almost empty bottle of wine to put away, but Concubine Zhou's hand held hers in place.
"Wan Mei, accompany bengong," Concubine Zhou said sluggishly.
Feng Mian took back her hands. "Today, something happened to the Fifth Prince--"
She wanted to talk about Junlin's matter of poisoning but Concubine Zhou had already changed the subject.
"Do you know what he did today?" Her hands continued to pour water inside of her cup.
"Tian Ke." She said the emperor's name spitefully as if hating that she couldn't put a curse on him by chanting it.
Feng Mian sat cross-legged in front of her and poured herself a cup.
"He sent Tian Yu to the borders. The cold and barren borders. To fight off against those wretched barbarian outlaws." Concubine Zhou's voice slurred.
"Who knows when Tian Yu will come back? Or if he can come back at all."
The moon made the unshed tears on Concubine Zhou's pupils glistened even more. It is truly a pitiful sight, if only Feng Mian hadn't known that Concubine Zhou had cheated on the emperor behind his back. It is hard to sympathise with what a person has brought to herself.
"Men can be found anywhere. And old love can be replaced with new love. But you only have that one son niangniang."
It was unfortunate that Feng Mian couldn't get through a drunk person.
"It's 'his' son." She bit.
"It's 'your' son." Feng Mian replied just as quickly.
Feng Mian couldn't understand Concubine Zhou's obsession for her old flame. Her reason for stubbornly holding onto a hopeless dream that someday her knight will come to take her away. Why make it hard for herself? Does past love transcend the love between mother and son?
This Concubine Zhou is too willful. Feng Mian met her eyes unwaveringly and said, "Zhou Yunqi, I think the emperor is trying to murder your child."
That very night, Fifth Prince Tian Junli was moved over to Penglai Pavilion's main courtyard by the order of Concubine Zhou.